Clothesline Saga part two
It was the 3rd of June, another sleepy dusty delta day… wait, it is the 10th of June.
As usual, my laptop is full of fragments of columns that were started and left
incomplete. There was a vintage race this past weekend at Sears Point so I might
as well post up a load of odes.
There has been a lot of activity since Sebring in the sportscar scene. Some of it
exciting, some of it baffling and the remainder simply maddening. Grand Am had
their west coast tour stops with the ALMS filling their time slots with Road Atlanta
and Mid Ohio. The Speed World Challenge mixed racing with manufacturer
politics and the results were predictable. However, let's start with a so far
unannounced press conference and then moving on to a non sportscar race
featuring racecars from a company that builds said product and is a major part of
a sportscar series.
All quiet on the western front… however,
For those who just cant get enough of the Porsche LMP2 hype, good news is
just around the bend. A major press conference is scheduled to be held at the
factory compound at Weissach just after Le Mans. The topic and visuals are all
about the LMP2 project. Will it be a runner that the invited will see or a bluff of what
perhaps Mr. Luhr will be testing soon enough… hard to say. It used to be that the
hacks, scribes and general public didn’t see any new Porsche until it was
deemed good enough to be shown. For the first time in a long while, this may be
the case. The LMP2 already has had it's initial roll out and seems to be holding to
schedule. Hey, it's only been six years since Porsche rolled out their last LMP.
What's that you say Mrs. Robinson ?
The past routine on race day is usually to have to box on with the Indy 500 as
background with occasional trips to the couch when something seems to be
happening. Reading media accounts in print and online have mostly proclaimed
that Indy is back, the excitement, the crowds and that Danica Patrick has single
handedly restored the Memorial Day event to premiere status. While I applaud her
obvious talent ( hell, I applaud ANYONE who will drive that oval in a single seater )
all that praise is a bit much for someone who lead the race on a fuel strategy. This
is show business and everyone ( hello Mr. Letterman ) in Gasoline Alley knows it.
What was puzzling to me was the lack of blunt commentary from a few of the
usually respected scribes regarding how many cars Danica took out. I'm sure a
certain Mr. Enge would have made for a colorful post race interview. How many
remember what happened to Kevin Cogan one year ? And for those who don’t
think that Tomas Enge has the right stuff, he is on pole for this weekend's IRL
race. Let racers, even rookies, be racers. If you are any good in the long run the
celeb stuff will follow.
One more thing, with every product imaginable being hyped that was on Danica's
Indy ride how about a good word for Panoz. I wonder how many viewers were
aware that the car was a product of Elan and Panoz G Force.
Wouldn’t it be advantageous for the ALMS crew to promote this simple bit
of success ? It may not be an LMP or GT ride but it is all in the family and a replica
Danica showcar would be just the thing for photo ops with the families and fans in
tow for a round of the ALMS. Whadaya say Don ?
The black and white of it is the blues…
The ALMS will touch down in Portland as scheduled in late July and clearly Scott
Atherton is hoping for a strong turn out along with decent weather. Oregon was in
the middle of a heat wave last year with daily temperatures over the three digit
mark. Atherton was in Portland recently and aside from the usual sales pitch for
the ALMS as "the most sophisticated, advanced sports car racing on the planet"
he made a statement comparing NASCAR to Wal-Mart and the ALMS is the
Nordstrom of racing. Regardless of the fact that there is class warfare in this
country, a Wal-Mart-Nordstrom comparison was probably not in the best interest of
promoting the ALMS. These days when almost everything is broken down
(unfairly) to a red state blue state statistic, it is easy for any statement to be taken
in the wrong context. Ain't political correctness fun ?
Circus Fun with The Waybacks
Back in the early 60's when TV consisted of three majors and five or six local
channels and rabbit ears and cheesy roof antennas were the landscape, I used to
watch racing at Ascot religiously every Sunday afternoon. The racing, if you could
call it that, was a mixture of figure 8 and destruction derby. The action was called
by a minor legend of west coast broadcasting, Dick Lane. With his trademark,
"Whoa Nellie" and constant ad references for Hub Furniture, it seemed like Ascot
would always be a staple. I used to watch it with a fascination of envy and
repulsion. In a distant way, the recent running of Grand Am at Laguna Seca
brought those old days of Ascot back in to focus. After a relatively clean showing at
Fontana, a number of drivers in both the Cup and GA series found themselves out
of their league at Laguna.
It has been years that I have seen driving so bad that a black flag should have
been used on almost every lap of the Cup race. Most couldn’t cut it at the runoffs
let alone the Speed GT. At Ascot, contact was supposed to be intentional, at
Laguna it seemed intentional. Bailing out of the media center for the main event,
Dave Soares and I watched a lot of the action from a perfect vantage spot between
turn one and two. It was absolutely fascinating to watch the amount of contact
between the cars. The prototurtles are nothing more than carbon fibre covered
locomotives as they take a pretty good slamming. The memorable moment came
under yellow towards the end of the race when a crew attempted to remove a large
piece of bodywork from the middle of the track just past the rise and turn one. The
corner workers at Laguna are very good and as the cars ventured down the
straight, they were greeted with a chorus of yellows. The circus made it's way
around the obstacle or so it seemed. All of a sudden a Porsche GT 3 Cup car at
close to full chat t-boned said obstacle sending scraps of carbon fibre all over the
track and in the air. This happened directly in front of Judge to be Soares. It didn’t
take much research to discover which entry was responsible. A quick peruse of
the grid sheet listed this particular racecar and team as starting at the back of the
pack. This was a hell of a way to play catch up and the end result started a chain of
delay that caused the race to end under yellow. Not the way to end your first event
at a new venue. Of what crowd there was in attendance were not amused, most in
the post race press conference didn’t buy in to the prepared remarks either.
The envelope please…
In the recent battle of TV coverage between the ALMS and Grand Am, the clear
winner has to be GA with far superior coverage of Mont Tremblant than the ALMS
enjoyed with CBS of Mid Ohio. The inclusion of the GA drivers meeting as
conducted by Mark Raffauf was a surprise bonus. No Doz and Jolt Cola should
have been passed before the meeting started. I wonder how IMSA will respond…
if Raffhauf can host "Talent Search" then surely "The Marty Kauffman Variety Show"
will debut soon. Forget the close finish at Tremblant, close finishes of a GA race
are mandated in the official playbook. The real highlight of Tremblant ala Dick
Lane at Ascot circa 1964 was a Porsche running in to the back of the tow truck
while under yellow. If this isn't shown on a blooper DVD running on late night
cable all I can say is Whoa Nellie !
The Boy Wonder's what is going on ? ( Holy Apex ! )
Any one who was at Road Atlanta or watched both the Speed and ALMS race on
the box no doubt was angered by what happened to Robin Liddell. Or at least what
seemed to have happened. After the initial emotional ride, a closer look back
shows a few things that should be considered. First the obvious. Papis should
have drawn a suspension, if not for the season then at least several rounds.
SCCA officials, in what appears to be ever mindful of a major manufacturers
involvement, gave a slap on the wrist in the way of probation for a couple of races
and a small fine. In the meantime, private team owner Jon Groom has to dig deep
in to his own pockets to repair Liddell's GT3. I have yet to find anyone who
disagrees that Papis deliberately rammed in to Liddell. Wouldn't it be more
prudent that in such obvious cases the guilty be made to pay for the damage?
Papis has GM, what does Groom have ? I can hear it out there now, well what is
deemed obvious ? I concede that to prove such a case would be difficult at best
and time consuming. Still, Papis knew he could get away with it and did, courtesy
of the SCCA.
That isn't the whole story though. Robin Liddell put himself in the position where
something was going to happen. The last few laps he drove not like someone
who was going to win but someone who was desperate not to lose. He stopped
driving his race. If Papis' Caddy did have the measure of the Porsche then there
was little that Liddell's GT3 could do about it. Robin Liddell is a very good driver,
he is comfortable in almost any mount. His record last year in LMP2 showed he
can hustle just about anything. The next level is not the car though, it is the mental
toughness and Liddell has a way to go in that category. Can you picture Papis
pulling that stunt on Jan Lammers or Mags ? It if it was to happen, then neither car
would have made it to the finish.
Do not pass go, do not collect 200 dollars
The nightmare continued for Robin Liddell in the closing laps of the ALMS race
later that same day. Whatever showed in real time wasn’t what went down. Three
cars in what was a small piece of track real estate looked like 200 motels on
Baltic during a Monopoly game. Turn 7 at Road Atlanta is a place for a lot of
mischief. Lehto's arrival in his Audi R8 upon the battling duo of Timo Bernhard
aboard his Alex Job Porsche and Liddell in the Panoz was a train wreck waiting to
happen. The Panoz spun first, the Porsche got the penalty. It was a day that justice
wasn’t served. However, considering the events on the day, not really a surprise
Liddell's next two Speed races were forgettable as he suffered through being
punted off track and not showing the edge he displayed at Sebring when he was
definitely messing with Porsche favorite Wolf Henzler. The Farnbacher pilot has
returned to form while the Groom team regroups. In the meantime, Robin will join
the Tafel Racing group for the Grand Am six-hour race at Watkins Glen this
weekend and then head off to La Sarthe for les 24 heures. The positive side for
Liddell is that he will be reunited again with Tony Dowe who runs the Porsche
operation for Tafel. Tony Dowe knows the mentality it takes for a driver to be a
constant winner. It's time for Robin to get to that next level.
Jim Bamber finally got his act together and made his first excursion to the west
coast. Jimbo had a full agenda and a list of things that he wanted to see and do.
Topping that list was a visit to Laguna Seca and also he wanted to hang out with
SCP's two resident truck-driving cowgirls. Jimbo's timing was excellent as Grand
Am was in full regalia at Laguna, however, our veteran of races at Brands,
Silverstone and the Rallye of Corsica decided one day was enough. Bamber's
friends in L.A. had fitted him with a pair of Tony Lama's and a real Stetson. The
problem was the accent, which was more Muswell Hillbilly than Marty Robbins.
Jimbo toured the track along with Terry Burkhart who was breaking in her new
Canon and then back to the beach house for refreshments. Our ride from LA to
Monterey and back was a new Jaguar R type and once the rain started over the
grapevine I turned the controls over to Bamber. I mean what else can a Brit do if he
cant drive in the wet ? When I woke up and glanced over at the speedo noticing it
being the other side of three digits, I politely ask Jimbo to slow down a wee bit.
The California Highway Patrol does not take American Express. The trip was quite
successful for Jimbo, he sold several of his paintings and to some
embarrassment, suffered through his celebrity when people discovered who he
was. Most of the public that reads his stuff thinks Bamber is a cartoon. He may not
be a cartoon but Jimbo certainly is a character. He celebrated his last night in So
Cal by visiting a rodeo bar out at the Riverside Rancheros. Lizett Bond was there
doing a ranch sorting and coaxed Jimbo to get up on her big bay during a cattle
change. It was then quickly back to the bar, feet's don't fail me now…